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Teacher Union Political Spending: Liberal as Ever

AFT continues to use teachers as ATM machines to fund their pet leftist causes.

The latest American Federation of Teachers annual financial disclosure has been released (H/T RiShawn Biddle). This year’s LM-2 is filled with goodies that are sure to warm the cockles of leftist teacher union members, but apolitical educators, centrists and certainly those on the right just may have a different opinion.

Despite all the legitimate bad press the Clinton foundations have received the last few years, AFT still continues to pour more money into their pay-for-play operations. In 2015-2016 the union gave $250,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, and the same amount to the Clinton Global Initiative. This brings the total given by AFT to the Clintons over the past four years to $2.2 million. Maybe the union figures they need to assure that the Clintons won’t go wanting should the money from foreign special interests to secure weapons deals dry up. In any event, the gifts will ensure that AFT president Randi Weingarten will have HRC on speed-dial.

And of course the Clintons aren’t the only leftists to receive loot from the teachers union. The Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive pro-labor and anti-charter school outfit, received $373,000. Additionally, the union gave $25,000 each to Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and the radical Hispanic activist group, La Raza. Here is a chart with a small, but representative sampling of AFT’s donations:

aft-pays-to-play

Clearly there are no gifts to any group that is remotely conservative. Nope. Even though the teachers themselves are anything but a leftist monolith, practically none of the union’s money flows in a rightward direction. In fact, in all elections since 1989, AFT has given $76,446,797 to Democrats and liberals and just $363,000 to Republicans and conservatives. In other words, less than one half of one percent of the union’s political spending goes to the right. (And in those cases it’s usually supporting the more left-leaning of two Republicans running against each other.) The National Education Association isn’t a whole lot better; about 3 percent of its political largess goes rightward. But according to Mike Antonucci, an NEA internal survey in 2005 (consistent with previous results), showed that its members “are slightly more conservative (50%) than liberal (43%) in political philosophy.” No reason to think AFT is any different. And Mary Kay Henry, president of the SEIU, which serves both public and private employees, acknowledged in January that “64 percent of our public members identify as conservative….”  (Like the AFT, about one-half of one percent of SEIU political donations go to Republicans/conservatives.)

So how do the government unions, whose leaders run to the left of the average worker, get away with spending dues dollars on candidates and causes that so many of its members revile? The answer very simply is because its members let them. But teachers and other government workers don’t have to put up with this. Typically about one-third of all teachers’ union dues are spent on politics, but legally the rank-and-file does not have to subsidize the union’s agenda. A teacher can withhold the political portion of their dues by resigning from the union and becoming an agency fee payer. In this scenario, the teacher is still forced to pay about two-thirds of full dues because the union claims it’s forced to represent you in collective bargaining. This is a half-truth; they do have to represent you. But they insist on that set-up because, as the exclusive bargaining agent, they then get to collect dues from every single worker.

A teacher who resigns from the union cannot vote on their contract and loses their union-supplied liability insurance. The latter is essential for a teacher, but that and other benefits are available through joining a professional organization like the Association of American Educators, a non-union alternative.

Sadly, very few teachers have taken advantage of the agency fee payer option. In the Golden State, the California Teachers Association, an NEA affiliate, claims that 35 percent of its 300,000 or so members are Republicans. But only about 10 percent of its members withhold the political share of their dues. That means there are 75,000 Republican union members who are paying for causes and candidates they are opposed to. The national numbers are even worse. Only 88,000 of NEA’s 3 million members (2.9 percent) withhold the political portion.

If enough teachers withheld the political portion of their dues, the unions might sit up and take note. Millions of dollars less to spend on their pet candidates and causes might shake up union leaders – all of whom have become all-too-comfy with their all-too-compliant members – and force them to be more responsive to those they insist on representing. With the failure of the Friedrichs case due to Justice Scalia’s untimely death, the unions still have a captive flock throughout much of the country. But teachers who don’t like being forced to pay for their union’s political agenda need to stand up and just say no. If you do, you will sleep better at night and be a few hundred dollars a year richer. By maintaining the status quo, consider yourself a willing ATM for the biggest political bullies in the country.

For those of you who are sick and tired of subsidizing union politicking, you can get help here.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

The Myth of the Underpaid Teacher Lives On

 Yet another “study” showing how poorly teachers are paid has surfaced.

Well, it’s a new school year and there is much tumult in the world of public education. Common Core battles, testing opt-outs, and litigation about school choice and teacher work rules dot the landscape. But with all the uncertainty, it’s comforting to know that there is one thing we can count on in late summer: a new bogus study showing that public school teachers are woefully underpaid.

This year’s entry doesn’t disappoint. “The teacher pay gap is wider than ever,” subtitled “Teachers’ pay continues to fall further behind pay of comparable workers” is a 29-page report released by the Economic Policy Institute, whose mission is “to inform and empower individuals to seek solutions that ensure broadly shared prosperity and opportunity.” If this were an honest statement, the word “opportunity” would be followed by “as long as the solutions are in sync with the union party line.” You see, EPI is nothing more than a union front group whose board includes a rogue’s gallery of Big Labor honchos: AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka, SEIU’s Mary Kay Henry, American Federation of Teachers’ Randi Weingarten, National Education Association’s Lily Eskelsen-García, et al.

And not only do the teachers unions have strong board representation, they donate heavily to EPI. According to the latest labor department reports, 2015 saw NEA present a $250,000 gift to EPI, only to be outdone by the smaller AFT, which kicked in $300,000 to the organization.

The study itself is just what you would expect: loads of numbers that are supposed to make people think that teachers are essentially little more than impoverished serfs, valiantly slaving away for pennies. Among the report’s claims:

  • Teachers’ weekly wages are 23 percent lower than those of other college graduates.
  • For public-sector teachers, the relative wage gap (regression adjusted for education, experience, and other factors) has grown substantially since the mid-1990s: It was ‑8 percent in 1994 and grew to a record ‑17.0 percent in 2015.
  • Regardless of experience, teacher wage gap expanded for female teachers.

Needless to say, the unions solemnly wrote about the report as if it were “news,” with NEA blogger Tim Walker suggesting that all teachers get a raise. And as day follows night, the media jumped on board. The relentless and reliably-unreliable Washington Post education blogger Valerie Strauss dutifully posted the whole report with the title, “Think teachers aren’t paid enough? It’s worse than you think.The Fiscal Times sounded alarm bells with “Teacher Pay Hits Record—but Not a Good One.”

But like most similar studies, EPI’s doesn’t do an apples-to-apples comparison. It omits a few things like the simple fact that teachers work 6-7 hour days and 180 days a year, whereas the study’s “comparable workers” put in an 8-9 hour a day and work 240-250 days a year. (Yes, yes, I know teachers take work home, but so do many other professionals who don’t get summers off.) Also, unlike private-sector workers, most teachers have extensive health benefits for which they typically pay very little, if anything. Furthermore, as University of Missouri professor Michael Podgursky points out, the pension benefits for teachers, which they only pay a tiny portion of – the taxpayer getting hosed for the rest – add greatly to a teacher’s total compensation. (The EPI report actually alludes to this, but buries it on page 14; more on this in a bit.)

Perhaps the most honest and well-researched study done on teacher pay, including the time-on-the-job and benefits factors, was done in 2011 by Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and Jason Richwine, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. In their report, they destroy the teacher union-perpetuated myth of the under-compensated teacher. Their study, in fact, found that teachers are actually paid more than private-sector workers.

They make the case that workers who switch from non-teaching jobs to teaching jobs “receive a wage increase of roughly 9 percent, while teachers who change to non-teaching jobs see their wages decrease by approximately 3 percent.” Additionally, when retiree health coverage for teachers is included, “it is worth roughly an additional 10 percent of wages, whereas private-sector employees often do not receive this benefit at all.”

Biggs and Richwine conclude that after taking everything into account, “teachers actually receive salary and benefits that are 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year.”

Back to the EPI study. On page 14 of the report, it acknowledges,

Our analysis of relative teacher pay thus far has focused entirely on the wages of teachers compared to other workers. Yet benefits such as pensions and health insurance are an increasingly important component of the total compensation package. Teachers do enjoy more attractive benefit packages than other professionals; thus, our measure of relative teacher wages overstates the teacher disadvantage in total compensation. The different natures of wages and benefits should be kept in mind, as it is only wages that may be spent or saved. Thus, the growing wage penalty is always of importance.

So in essence, the authors of the study come clean in this paragraph and admit that their stress on wages alone overstates the real disparity in pay. The “spent or saved” comment is especially ridiculous. Pension earnings are indeed “saved” for the future. Whatever. It’s obvious that this report is meant to tug at the heartstrings, build righteous indignation and provide local teachers unions with ammo for collective bargaining battles with school boards.

For an honest assessment of teacher pay, stick with the Biggs-Richwine study. But if one is looking for skewed and incomplete data as fodder for a splashy headline or an emotional plea, the dishonest and self-serving union-sponsored EPI report fills the bill beautifully.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Planned Persecution

NEA claims to be for religious freedom, but Catholics and other right-to-lifers need not apply.

“The National Education Association believes that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. The Association also believes that choice of religion is an intensely personal decision.” These high-minded words are from NEA Resolution I-33, which was passed at its recent convention. Nothing really new here; the NEA passed other similar resolutions this year, and in fact it does so every year. There is also nothing new about the union’s raving hypocrisy on the issue.

As we learned recently via several secretly recorded videos, Planned Parenthood (PP) not only performs an ungodly number of abortions every year, but is in the dead baby body parts sales biz too. One would think that the unions, which have donated millions to PP over the years, might have shown some reticence. But they have doubled down instead. Over at AFL-CIO, Boss Trumka asserted that calls to defund PP “based on doctored undercover recordings are politically motivated and wrong.” Actually, he’s wrong. The videos weren’t “doctored” at all; they were available in their entirety on the internet. SEIU president Mary Kay Henry stood her ground and affirmed in a tweet, “Extremists stoop to new low attacking women & access to preventive care.” (Henry has a familial stake in this in that SEIU VP Kirk Adams is married to PP president Cecile Richards.)

In another case of defending evil, spreading falsehoods and/or selling ignorance, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten tweeted “More than 50% of Planned Parenthood patients are enrolled in Medicaid. Defunding @PPFA would take their coverage away. #StandWithPP” Wrong again. Defunding PP won’t take anyone’s Medicaid coverage away.

But for sheer misdirection nothing beats United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew who back in 2012 announced a $125,000 gift to PP. “As a union with a large female membership, we know the importance of the kind of health care that Planned Parenthood provides, including breast cancer screening.” Well, actually, despite what many think, PP does not perform mammograms or even possess the necessary equipment to do so. Its clinics do provide referrals, but the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Cancer Society readily provide them as well.

It’s important to note that UFT’s $125,000 gift (and all union largess) is comprised of dues money the union collects from its teachers regardless of their religious/moral convictions. So what can a pro-life teacher do knowing that part of his/her union dues is going to fund PP, one of whose raisons-d’être is killing (and now selling body parts of) the unborn? In non-right-to-work states, these teachers have two options. They can become agency fee payers in which case they must still pay for things like collective bargaining but don’t have to support the unions’ progressive political agenda. Or a teacher can become a religious objector and pay absolutely no money to the union, but instead pay a full dues share to a charity agreed on by the teachers union and the school district. This is a difficult status to achieve because the union just can’t bear to have what it considers a freeloader in its midst. As such, a dissenting teacher must usually seek out legal assistance and go to great lengths to prove their religiosity.

Enter Linda Misja, a high school language teacher in western Pennsylvania. Ms. Misja, a devout Roman Catholic, and her union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), just can’t seem to agree on a mutually acceptable charity. According to Watchdog.org’s Evan Grossman, Misja initially requested that her money to go to People Concerned for the Unborn Child, a pro-life group which is opposed to artificial contraception, in-vitro fertilization and birth control. The union, which either has a dark sense of humor or is seriously delusional, came back with an offer to send her dues money to an abortion clinic.

Misja countered with an alternative: a charity arm of the National Rifle Association which works with public schools to teach gun safety. But the union nixed this idea also on the grounds that it was “too political.” As Misja and the union duke it out, $2,000 she earned as a teacher is sitting in an escrow account.

What all this points to is that the teachers unions – PSEA is but one example – put their far left agenda above all else. The high-minded assertion about religious liberty in NEA Resolution I-33 is a canard. If the union really believed in religious freedom, it would direct PSEA, an NEA affiliate, to honor Misja’s request to have her money donated to an entity that supports her Catholic beliefs. And just as ridiculous is PSEA’s claim that donating to the NRA is “too political.” Since 1989, NEA has spent $92,972,656 on candidates, PACs, etc. while the American Federation of Teachers spent $69,757,113 during the same 26 year period. (In 2014 alone, PSEA spent $2,711,333 on politics) But Ms. Misja is laughably being denied the option to donate to the NRA because it’s “too political.”

Tolerance is a buzzword the teachers unions use with great abandon. But when it only goes one way, it becomes dictatorial, which is a perfect word to describe many teacher union policies.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.